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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

Chapter Fourteen
ARREST AND TRIAL

SU TUNGPO, to use the poet's own expression, had gone on
"spitting out flies found in one's food", and had so far escaped scot-
free. But the hundredth time he "spat", he was caught. In March 1079
he was transferred to Huchow in the lake district of Kiangsu. In his
letter of thanks to the Emperor on assumption of the new office he
said something that proved too much for the politicians at court. So
long as he had sung^ about the poverty of the people, the tax, and
the draft, it was quite possible for the petty men to ignore it. Now
he made a direct reference to these men, among them Leeding and
Sudan, who had risen to power as Wang Anshih's proteges. Tlj|f
government was in the hands of nondescript, third-rate men who"
merely temporised and stood for neither one thing nor the other. Su
Tungpo had been sending letters to the Emperor, and every time the
Emperor read them he had expressed his admiration to his courtiers.
It will be recalled that these men had before prevented Su's entry into
the capital. There was a real danger that he might be recalled to power,
since all the leaders of the new economic policy had been dismissed or
retired.

The letter of thanks was written according to the routine formula,
briefly stating the official's past unworthy record and continuing with
praise of the Emperor's great generosity in giving him such a splencHt?
new post. However, Su Tungpo said: "Your Majesty knows that I am
stupid and behind the times, unable to keep up with the young up-
starts; seeing that in my middle age I am not likely to cause trouble,
Your Majesty has entrusted me with the shepherding of the people.'*
The phrase which I have translated as "young upstarts" did not sound
so bad in Chinese; literally it referred to "those unqualified young men
who have been suddenly promoted" by Wang Anshih. In the past
fight over Wang's regime, this had become a fixed phrase with that
definite meaning. Why, Leeding and Sudan thought, 4id he think he
could get away with that? Moreover, he said that he was appointed
to a local administration because at his age he was not likely to causS
trouble. Did he imply that those remaining at the court were neces-
sarily men who liked to cause trouble ? Ancient scholars, in the absence
of protection of civil rights, had developed an extreme subtlety in
phrasing, saying more than was apparent, and scholar readers had
developed the habit of hunting with delight for what was said between
the lines. Court bulletins were regularly published, being the earliest
form of Chinese printed newspapers. Whatever Su wrote attracted

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